Tuesday, May 26, 2009


HOME! I'm home. It's so nice to be home. The kids did the shopping and cooked fabuous meals. There was champagne, steaks, yummy veggies and a clean house. The sheets were warm out of the dryer and the dogs cuddled up next to me. Sadly I only have 2 nights here and I'm off to NYC tomorrow for Book Fair. No matter, it's just nice to be back home.

Theobald House

This is where I spent a week in Kauai. For those of you who know me well, and know that I am not a camper, you might appreciate how much I really wanted to receive this wonderful fellowship. Did I mention the bugs that invaded the kitchen when food was left on the counter and in the sink? The gecko liked the downstairs shower and joined any bather during the evening. The lichee tree had fruit too high to reach, and the pigs were too quick to catch.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My homeaway from home

By now you might wonder where exactly I am staying. This is Allerton House, located on a white sand beach where turtle nest. Gentle waves lap up at the shore and Lotus flowers blow in the pond. The home is surrounded by carved statues of Greek origin.

Sadly, I am not staying here.

Dino Eggs

Does this tree look familiar? The next time Jurassic Park comes on tv, compare this photo to the scene in the movie where they find the dino eggs. Yes, that's right, this is the same tree.
Many movies are filmed on the island of Kauai. The thick, green forests, or perhaps I should say, the native forests overrun by invasive plant species, can provide a lush backdrop to just about any film. We had lunch on the beach where 6 days/7 nights was filmed. Stood on the plateau used in South Pacific and hunted for dino eggs in the Allerton Gardens.

Where is this?

Take a close look at this picture. Where do you think it is taken? If you said, "the Grand Canyon" you'd be off by several thousand miles. This amazing view is the edge of the Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai.
Our intrepid group crawled out of the house at the ungodly hour of 7 am, after spending a long and late night working on our legacy project which was due Sat. morning. The sleep from our eyes vanished when we saw the spectacular vista spreading out before us. This is not place for anyone who hates heights.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Butt Nut. fellowship, NTBG,

Well, I finally made it here. The plane diverted to miss a lightning storm, which meant arriving about 15 mintues after my ride was supposed to leave. The good news was that the other planes were also late, so that I wasn't left stranded at the airport.

This is the most amazing experience and I am in awe of the environmental journalists who are sharing in this week's adventure. They are all so young and accomplished that I feel quite humbled.

We spent the day learning about the NTBG and the remarkable work they have done in saving plants from extinction.

This is a photo of the largest seed in the world nicknamed the "butt nut" because of its resemblance to, well, you get the idea. The other thing which stood out for me today was learning about fossils found on this island, something which really surprised me as I associate fossils with Alberta.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

cloned, glow in dark puppy

Wouldn't it be great to have a pet that glowed in the dark? You could snuggle up to your pet cat or dog, and use them instead of a night light. There are glow in the dark fish, pigs, frogs and cats, but now scientists have created a dog! Here is an article from New Scientist magazine that describes this recent creation. And, no, don't bother asking your parents for one of these pups. They can't be purchased for pet owners.....yet.

Fluorescent puppy is world's first transgenic dog
12:00 23 April 2009 by Ewen Callaway

A cloned beagle named Ruppy – short for Ruby Puppy – is the world's first transgenic dog. She and four other beagles all produce a fluorescent protein that glows red under ultraviolet light.
A team led by Byeong-Chun Lee of Seoul National University in South Korea created the dogs by cloning fibroblast cells that express a red fluorescent gene produced by sea anemones.
Lee and stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang were part of a team that created the first cloned dog, Snuppy, in 2005. Much of Hwang's work on human cells turned out to be fraudulent, but Snuppy was not, an investigation later concluded.
This new proof-of-principle experiment should open the door for transgenic dog models of human disease, says team member CheMyong Ko of the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "The next step for us is to generate a true disease model," he says.
However, other researchers who study domestic dogs as stand-ins for human disease are less certain that transgenic dogs will become widespread in research.
Dogs already serve as models for diseases such as narcolepsy, certain cancers and blindness. And a dog genome sequence has made the animals an even more useful model by quickening the search for disease-causing genes. Most dog genetics researchers limit their work to gene scans of DNA collected from hundreds of pet owners.
Making a glowing dog
Lee's team created Ruppy by first infecting dog fibroblast cells with a virus that inserted the fluorescent gene into a cell's nucleus. They then transferred the fibroblast's nucleus to another dog's egg cell, with its nucleus removed. After a few hours dividing in a Petri dish, researchers implanted the cloned embryo into a surrogate mother.
Starting with 344 embryos implanted into 20 dogs, Lee's team ended up with seven pregnancies. One fetus died about half way through term, while an 11-week-old puppy died of pneumonia after its mother accidentally bit its chest. Five dogs are alive, healthy and starting to spawn their own fluorescent puppies, Ko says.
Besides the low efficiency of cloning – just 1.7 per cent of embryos came to term – another challenge to creating transgenic dogs is controlling where in the nuclear DNA a foreign gene lands. Lee's team used a retrovirus to transfer the fluorescent gene to dog fibroblast cells, but they could not control where the virus inserted the gene.
This would seem to prevent researchers from making dog "knockouts" lacking a specific gene or engineering dogs that produce mutant forms of a gene. These knockout procedures are now commonly done in mice and rats, and three researchers earned a Nobel prize in 2007 for developing this method, called "gene targeting".
No bright future?
Ko is working to adapt a procedure used so far in pigs, cows and other animals to target genes in cloned dogs. His lab hopes to knock out a specific oestrogen receptor in dogs to understand the hormone's effects on fertility.
The long lifespan of dogs and their reproductive cycle could make them more relevant to human fertility than mice, he says. "I think these dogs will be a very useful model for our research."
Greg Barsh, a geneticist at Stanford University who studies dogs as models of human disease, says creating a transgenic dog is "an important accomplishment", showing that cloning and transgenesis can be applied to a wide range of mammals.
"I do not know of specific situations where the ability to produce transgenic dogs represents an immediate experimental opportunity," Barsh adds. But transgenic dogs will give researchers another potential tool to understand disease.
However, Nathan Sutter, a geneticist specialising in dogs at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, says "transgenesis is labourious, expensive and slow".
Add the expense of caring for laboratory-reared dogs and negative public perceptions and it could mean few researchers turn to transgenic dogs like Ruppy, he says: "it's not on my horizon as a dog geneticist at all."
Journal reference: genesis (DOI: 10.1002/dvg.20504)

Friday, May 15, 2009

What I'm Doing In Kaua'i

For those of you who think that Kaua'i is a "holiday in the sun", think again. This is really work and lots of it! There are so many cool things planned that it's difficult to choose the one I'm looking forward to the most. Having attended a number of hotel or tourist luaus over the years, I'm interested in participating in an authentic meal.
Click on the image to the left to enlarge. No comments, please, on the snorkelling activity planned on day 3.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

National Tropical Botanical Gardens

On Sunday I leave for Kaua'i to be part of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens Environmental Journalism Fellowship. It's amazing how many things I'm going to need for a week- the top of the list being mosquito repellant and after bite, for the bugs that didn't know they weren't supposed to dine on my blood. When my kids used to go away to camp they always worried that they weren't going to make friends. I used to tell them to be themselves, play nicely and share their goodies with the children in their cabin. Remembering my words of advice, my adult kids gave me the same instructions, but added in "Don't worry, Mom, at least you're not stuck there all summer like we were at camp."

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Unionized Mole

Here's a photo from the amazing CWILL (Children's Writers and Illustrators of BC) Spring Hatching, a group launch featuring over 30 local writers and illustrators.
On the front of my shirt is a mole carrying a picket sign that says, "ON STRIKE" and below the picture it says, "UNIONIZED MOLE". This shirt is a joke and it comes from a famous quote from one of my favoriate writers, Isaac Asimov.

Isaac Asimov said that if you want to find a chemist, ask him/her to discuss the following words: 1) mole 2) unionized. As he so eloquently put it, "If he starts talking about furry animals and organized labor, keep walking."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Charlie's dinner

Both of my dogs are on special diets. They are both allergic to kibble-like food and it cost us a fortune in vet bills before we figured this out. Squishie aka "Cry" can't eat meat, while Charlie aka "Havoc" eats meat and a lot of it. Charlie is really frantic about food because he is a rescue dog and is worried he will never see food again. This is what meals are like at our house.